The trial of a Canadian imam detained in China and accused of terrorist activities has finally begun, his family says.

But relatives complain that Beijing continues to produce no evidence against Huseyin Celil and to ignore his pleas for Canadian representation.

“He said, ‘I want my own lawyer, I want a Canadian lawyer,’ ” his wife, Kamila, said in a phone interview in Toronto last night.

But she said no such lawyer was provided at the trial, nor were diplomats from Canada on hand to watch the proceedings last Friday. “The Canadian government didn’t send representation,” she said. “They were supposed to. They were supposed to send somebody from the Canadian embassy.”

Ms. Celil was relayed accounts of proceedings by relatives in China. She conceded that court proceedings have been difficult to follow because trial dates keep shifting. She said she did not know when her husband would next appear.

Since he was arrested last year, the rights of Mr. Celil — a member of the repressed Uyghur ethnic minority in China — have emerged as a diplomatic wedge between Canada and China.

Prime Minster Stephen Harper and his top officials have raised the case many times with Beijing, a position that may be straining relations. Last month, International Trade Minister David Emerson and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty visited China and again pressed Beijing to observe the consular rights Mr. Celil is entitled to as a Canadian.

Beijing has never acknowledged the recent emigrant as a foreigner.

Whatever the political effect of Canada’s entreaties, the pleas are having little apparent effect on the court case, according to the detainee’s family.

His wife said she has been relayed accounts of Friday’s six-hour hearing by her in-laws in China, including Mr. Celil’s mother and sisters, who attended the proceedings in the regional capital, Urumqi.

She said she was told her husband looked well. But the proceeding bears faint resemblance to what Canadians would call a trial. Prosecutors are said to be presenting no evidence, instead asking the detainee very basic questions.

“They are saying, ‘Which city do you live in Canada? . . . How many children do you have?,’ ” Ms. Celil said. ” ‘ What kind of activities are Uyghurs doing outside China? How many years did you live in Middle Asia?’ “

A host of human-rights groups condemn China for its treatment of the Uyghurs, a Muslim minority group in an oil-rich part of western China next to Afghanistan.

Mr. Celil, a former imam at a mosque in Hamilton, was travelling on a new Canadian passport when he travelled to Uzbekistan last spring. He was arrested there and handed over to China, which had an outstanding warrant. Mr. Celil was accused of having links to terrorism.

The Uyghur Canadian Association, which is also following the case closely, maintains the case is a sham. A statement circulated by the association says the court last Friday rejected Mr. Celil’s request that he be allowed to see whether his state-appointed lawyer has a law degree.

The lawyer apparently told family members that “so far in his understanding there is not any reason he has seen why Mr. Celil was detained and kept in China,” according to the association.

It adds that Chinese officials continue to ask about the detainee’s political activities in Canada, even though Mr. Celil has always insisted he is simply a family man.

Written by: Colin Freeze
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